Word: inauspicious

Pronunciation: i-nah-SPI-shəs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: not conducive to success; unpromising; unlucky

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Oh, here / Will I set up my everlasting rest, / And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh.

– Romeo Montague, Romeo & Juliet (5.3.109-112) (William Shakespeare)

Recognize this excerpt? If you ever had to study Shakespeare in high school (or you’re a nerd like me who just reads Shakespeare for fun), you should remember this quote from Romeo’s final monologue in the timeless play Romeo & Juliet. There are probably a dozen words from this monologue alone that could have made it into my vocabulary segment, but I decided to start with “inauspicious” because it’s in my favorite part of Romeo’s speech. Maybe it’s me, but a Shakespearean tragedy just doesn’t feel complete without at least one character criticizing the misfortunates brought on by fate.

Anything “inauspicious” is not favorable to good fortune. The word is derived from the archaic noun “auspice”, which means “a divine or prophetic token”. This word comes from the Latin noun auspicium “divination”, which in turn stems from the noun auspex “diviner by birds”, as divination in the 16th century involved observing bird flight.

While planning for this post, I actually had a choice between the positive and the negative form: “auspicious” or “inauspicious”. Not to seem too “glass-half-empty”, but I opted to go with “inauspicious” because of the reference to my favorite play. That’s why I find the latter word a little more poetic, though one could just as easily use the former for the opposite definition. Perhaps you’d prefer to write about “auspicious” events if your plots tend to run a more fortunate course, or maybe you’re like Shakespeare and often have “inauspicious” circumstances drive your characters to a tragic end. Either way, I think both words sound quite elegant, so it’s up to you to fit them to the tone of your stories. Choose wisely!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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